Your son or daughter came out to you and you were so shocked that you were tongue-tied. Or, more commonly, you reacted by getting angry and saying things that smack of denial such as “You can’t be! You’re too young to know!” Studies have showed that 2/3 of parents who are caught off-guard do not take coming out stories well. Your child may have thought about his or her coming out for months, even years, but you, the parent, only has a split-second to respond to your child’s disclosure.
If teens see that their parents are uncomfortable discussing gayness then they may conclude that there is something wrong about being gay. They may also decide that if being gay makes their parents feel so uncomfortable then they shouldn’t talk about it.
So, how do you recover when the initial conversation whipped up a tempest of anxieties? It’s easy for a parent to take his child’s coming out personally and react with hurtful comments. As a parent, you want to
set things right so your child feels supported and loved, unconditionally.
So, to have a civil conversation, you need to cool down and say something like “you know you really threw me off-guard with your revelation. I wasn’t expecting it. I need time to process this important news.” (it’s o.k. to admit that conversations that conversations, like these, are not easy for you, either.) “ If I said things that were hurtful, I’m sorry. I love you; you’re the same child I’ve always loved and will continue to love.”
It helps to remember that it’s a compliment that your child felt a need to tell you about an important part of his/her life and trusted you with this information even though he knows that revelation might disappoint you. By the time a child tells you, he/she probably has resolved any doubt in his own mind.
You need to use words and body language that will make the child feel comfortable. Your goal is to create an open dialogue which will lead to further conversations by not raising your voice. When you are calm, you are ready to speak.
Choose the right setting
• Turn off the television, computer, I pad, radio, or other distractions.
• Don’t talk when you’re tired, are rushed to go somewhere. Make time to talk.
• Stay calm. If you can’t stay calm or your child can’t, suggest another time to have a conversation.
• Be patient. Listen to his concerns and ask how you can support him/her.
• Watch your body language! It’s as important as What you Say.
• Arms crossed across your chest connote defensiveness.
• Hands on hip connote anger as does finger pointing.
• Leaning forward in your chair translates that you are interested in the topic.
• Eye contact means you have my attention.
Keep in mind during this conversation, that this is an overwhelming time for your son/daughter, and even if it feels overwhelming for you, too, your teen has it worse off than you. Don’t deal with your issues In front of him and make him feel guilty. If YOU need support, contact Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays for the nearest chapter to you.
About.com GLBT Guide by Ellen Friedrichs suggests the following ways you can support your child:
• Understand you cannot change who your child is. Sexual identity is not a choice.
• Educate yourself. Read books, get information from the internet and various support organizations.
• Tell your child you don’t have all the answers, but you’re willing to learn.
• Join support groups such as PFLAG.
• Offer unconditional love and support. His revelation doesn’t change your love for him. Your child needs it.
• Remember that your child is essentially the same kid you’ve always known.
• It isn’t about sex per se. But whom he identifies with and is attracted to.
I’m interested in knowing how you handled your child’s “coming out.” Please leave a comment here.
When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know
For more detailed advice, see book, co-authored with a mother of a gay son and a psychiatrist, Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.